Monday, June 30, 2008

Looking forward

The invitations to my July 19th book launch have gone out. I'm looking forward to hearing who all is going to come. I've invited a huge mix of people: mental health professionals, fellow writers, friends, relatives, neighbors, leaders from my church, and - of course - Living Room people. Some will be Christians and others not at all so.

One person I've invited is my old boss, a person who gave me a job when he knew I had a diagnosis of schizophrenia (a diagnosis that turned out to be wrong) and I was freshly discharged from the mental hospital. He trusted me with some of the most challenging projects, something I have always been grateful for. He did much to help rehabilitate me and build my self-esteem. I met with him about a year ago, for the first time in thirty years. Wanted him to read what I had written about him in my book. I hope he comes. He's quite elderly now, but I would like to thank him in front of everyone.

Soon I will start planning what I will say and what I will read from the book. That will be a fun challenge. How can I best speak to this kind of a mixed group? What can I give them? How can I best interest them? What do they need to hear?

I emailed Pastor Don today, telling him what a big responsibility I found this to be. But half an hour later I emailed again with my realization that it's not my responsibility - it's God's. It's God's work; he's in control. All I need to do is to be myself and to be led by his Spirit.

I'm looking forward to planning the food. My two best friends have offered to co-ordinate that part of the day and my daughter-in-law will help. I feel so supported by them.

Tomorrow is Canada Day and our church is ready to give a big party for the community. This is the eighth year we're doing it and hundreds of people come out for it. It's a huge effort that everyone helps out with. Fortunately it sounds like the weather will be perfect - dry and not too hot.

Friday, June 27, 2008

After "Living Room"

I went into Living Room today with a lot of prayer, trying to clear the clouds hanging over me and the prayers did help.

The meeting felt a bit stunted, though. I thought the topic for discussion that I brought was a good one. However, the eighteen sitting around the table were so unengaged in what I was saying. It was like pulling teeth trying to get people to talk. But I did eventually manage to pull a few into the discussion. Was it the large number of people? Last meeting we had only twelve and almost everyone took part. It was a lively time that we stopped only because it was time to go into our small groups. Today's topic was a similar one, but not too well received.

I pulled Pastor Don in by asking him what Peter meant when he said, "But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do." (1 Peter 1:15) I asked, "So, Pastor Don, what does it mean to be holy?" Everyone laughed...and I only just now realize what was funny about that.

Pastor Don usually likes to just sit and listen, not taking part, preferring the discussion to be ours alone. But it's kind of fun to surprise him now and then with a question he's not expecting. And we really appreciate hearing from him. His explanation for the word "holy" was that it meant to be set apart, devoted to God.

My friend and I are emailing each other. She's explaining how she feels and I'm explaining how she misunderstood me. I would hate to lose this friend. She means a lot to me.

So where is my mood now? I feel the usual peace and contentedness I feel after a Living Room meeting. However, I also feel tears kind of near the surface. Perhaps I haven't had enough sleep lately. Perhaps it's the result of worries about my relationship with my friend. I don't know.

I have a busy few days ahead. Wish I could have a whole day off to just putter at nothing too much in particular. Catch up on my reading. Perhaps even draw or paint a bit. One day...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Dark before "Living Room"

Tomorrow is Living Room day, but I don't feel ready. Something happened tonight that threw a block of darkness in my way, making it hard to feel at peace. A friend misunderstood me and over-reacted, getting quite angry with me. I care about this person, so it's hard on me to have this happen. I don't like having people mad at me.

So many of my Christian friends have talked about attacks from Satan just before they were going to do some kind of work for God. And I remember the time last year that I was hit by a bus the day before Living Room. Though I wasn't hurt and there wasn't much damage to the car, it was pretty hard to get into the spirit that Living Room deserves. Tonight I feel dark again - not where I should be emotionally or spiritually.

Friends have often reminded me of Ephesians 6:10-18: "Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes....put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand...." My friends tell me that there will be times I'll need to do that. I often say, "That hardly ever happens to me." But here it is happening now. I will need to read that passage well over the next while.

I pray that my friend will forget about being mad at me tomorrow. I pray that all will be forgotten. I was only trying to be helpful and she took it all wrong.

I pray that I will awake tomorrow with the dark blockage gone from my heart. I'll pray that God will fill me with his love and help me share that love with the people at Living Room. I'll pray for peace and healing.

Monday, June 23, 2008

In appreciation

Good morning everyone. It's a fine day here in Vancouver. Looks like the sun will shine on us today. I'm busy getting ready for company tomorrow night. Some friends who are important to me are coming for dinner and games. I've wanted to have them over since before Christmas - looking for an opportunity all this time - and finally it's happening. I'm trying to make everything just right - clean house and good food. Yes!! So looking forward to this!

If you read my last post you will know about my new understanding of what Jesus meant by the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven - of this being here, starting today. And I hope this doesn't upset any of you, because I know it's different from what most of us have been taught in Sunday School. But I believe we must listen to what Jesus said and not what people say he said. We need to listen to him first.

This new understanding is making me look differently at the world around me.

I remember clearly what happened when I first became interested in photography. I became very aware of everything, looking for things that would make good pictures. I came to appreciate the world in a different way - looking for beauty everywhere I went.

Yesterday I went for a walk with my husband, thinking about God and his presence with us. And I appreciated the sun and the gardens and the precious time with my husband. And I thanked God for all the good I saw and for the good time with my husband. And I experienced God's kingdom. I experienced a bit of the kingdom of heaven. And I felt full and happy.

It's so important to be aware of what is good and to do what is good and to be grateful. So important to love. There's nothing better for our mental health!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Heaven - starting today

Well, I'm finally fixed up computer-wise. Yesterday my husband bought me a brand new computer, completely virus-free. I can blog again - to my heart's content. This is so neat!

I've been doing so much thinking, so much exploring of what Jesus meant when he talked about "the kingdom of God" and "the kingdom of heaven." And I've been sharing with a couple of friends via email. Understanding what Jesus meant has been unbelievably hard and it's a mystery why that should be so. Is it this hard for others too?

One reason for this is that I think is that these phrases are so familiar that they had pretty well lost all meaning for me. They are words I tend to overlook. And, when I have looked at them, I assumed they referred to heaven after we die - because that's what has always been drilled into me from childhood on. And yet, Jesus said "the kingdom of heaven is upon us" and "the kingdom of God is within us." I've been grappling with exactly what that means.

Many people are now understanding that heaven begins today - now - for those who live under the reign of God. And I am now seeing it that way as well.

I think I have experienced heaven, especially as I do the work God has given me to do. When I support people with depression and when I lead Living Room sessions and when I worship in church - those are all little pockets of heaven - times of holy joy, feeling God close by.

Yes I believe eternity with God starts today when we live under God's reign - when we follow God and when we live the way He intends us to live and when we are what He intends us to be.
We still live in the midst of a sinful and evil world, and we will still suffer because of that, but when we hang on to God, believe He is with us, trust Him and follow Jesus' ways, we will experience peace and joy in the midst of it all. We will have lives that are full and overflowing.

We can start experiencing the kingdom of heaven here and now. Don't you think that's exciting?

I'm now re-reading the gospels, this time with my new understanding.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Way of Jesus

I've been doing some exciting reading lately about things that make a lot of sense. The Secret Message of Jesus by Brian D. McLaren paints a wonderful picture of who Jesus really was and what it must have been like during the point of history he lived in to hear his message and to see what he stood for.

Many Christians seem to have lost track of what Jesus' message was. They forget that he was a radical - a revolutionary - wanting to change the status quo. He taught forgiveness. He taught us to love our enemies. He taught us not to be judgmental. He ate with fraudulent tax collectors, prostitutes, and the poorest of the poor. He touched untouchable lepers. He preached that love was more important than a long list of man-made laws. He spoke up against hypocrisy.

I myself have been unhappy about some of the way things in the church are, especially the stigma that is still attached to people with mental illness. Followers of Christ are in such a good position to help people who live with these illnesses. Faith is important for our mental well-being and we need our Christian friends to encourage us. This is best done with compassionate, Christ-like love by people who will take the trouble to get educated about the causes of our illness.

All too often Christians are like Job's friends, blaming us for our disorders, telling us that we're not right with God. Some will tell us to throw away our pills. "All you need is Jesus." One evangelist even said that there is no such thing as mental illness. "All such problems have a spiritual basis." They're judgmental. They have not learned the lessons Christ taught.

Christians need to be prepared to be radicals in this world, not going along with the status quo, fighting injustices. In many ways we forget to follow the ways of Christ. We've forgotten what Jesus stood for. If Jesus was a revolutionary in his day, we as his followers need to be revolutionaries in our day....because there are a myriad of injustices.

In Matthew 5 Jesus preached that the kingdom of heaven is for those who:
  • realize their need for God
  • mourn
  • are gentle and lowly
  • hunger and thirst for justice
  • are merciful
  • have pure hearts
  • work for peace
  • are persecuted because they work for God.
This is the code of conduct for Christ's disciples. How many of us follow them? How many of us have forgotten?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

All hyped up

Guess I still have some symptoms of hypomania, though not very bad (I don't think).

I've been reading a lot and getting all excited about what I'm reading. Wanting to talk about it. Wanting to write about it. Not being able to let it go.

I just finished This Beautiful Mess by Rick McKinley, pastor of Imago Dei Community Church in Portland. It's about practising the presence of the Kingdom of God.

McKinley aligns himself with the emerging church movement, which suggests that a revolution is needed in the Christian church. Too many have forgotten that Jesus was a radical, not happy with the status quo. The way the world is today is no better - and probably worse - than it was in Jesus' time. If we're to be followers of Christ we need to be radical, as he was, not satisfied with leaving the world as it is. We need to work to fight injustice and poverty. We need to love others, remembering how God loves us. Jesus befriended the marginalized and healed them. He accepted sinners and ate with them. He did not stigmatize anyone. This is the Jesus in whose footsteps we're called to follow.

I don't know what I should do to calm down. To stop thinking so much about all this. To stop wanting to dig into books - deeper and deeper. I feel so hungry to learn. So hungry to understand what the Kingdom of God that Jesus talked about is. He said the Kingdom of God is upon us. It's not just tomorrow after we die. It's around us now, if we could only recognize it. We can practise the Kingdom of God by doing what Jesus did.

I know one thing: Living Room is one way in which we can practise the Kingdom of God. And I know that God is there at the meetings. It's God's work, and I rely fully on him to make it what it is. That explains the holy joy I feel afterwards.

I was going to write an essay on all this. However, perhaps one way I could calm down and let this all go a bit is by not doing that after all. Perhaps I'll spend my time instead creating invitations for my book launch coming up on July 12th. It's time to change gears.

Monday, June 09, 2008

A bit high

I've been stable for so long I had almost forgotten I can still have mood swings, just like other people with bipolar disorder. Funny how you start thinking you're invincible. Today I'm realizing that I'm showing some signs of hypomania.

I've had such a hunger to read books lately - lots of books. And then I get all excited about what I'm learning and want to - no, I need to - discuss it with people. Such a yearning to philosophize! I've called my best friend, needing to talk about stuff. I've emailed a couple of friends with thoughts that are overflowing. Asked my pastor to recommend some courses and books to help me with the work I'm doing. I have this feeling like I need to get some really good training to better prepare myself for the things I want to do. And I'm 62!!! Wanting to start all over as a student again!

Crazy thing is that I've been thinking I need to limit my activities. My husband has been complaining that I spend far too much time on church stuff, and that includes Living Room.

What is happening with me now reminds me of the time I first got sick when I was nineteen. I was at university and also hungry to read and learn. I bought many different kinds of books I couldn't afford. And I talked a blue streak to my friends until they couldn't understand me anymore. My mind was travelling faster than my words could keep up with. I gradually became psychotic and, after far too long without help, ended up in a psychiatric hospital, brought there by ambulance.

So you see, I need to take care of myself right now. Perhaps do a little less reading and lighter material, nothing that would encourage me to philosophize too much. Perhaps a novel. And I should do some tidying around the house (much needed). I could play my music loud (because my husband is away) and do some ironing. My ironing could become a cultural happening, with records that I haven't heard for a while.

I'm fortunate that I have a good friend who understands my disorder quite well. She mothers me. She caught me tonight, planning yet another activity that I could do. I respect this friend, know she is wise and cares for me, so I listen fairly well to her. I'm so grateful to have her.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

"My yoke is easy..."

Before I begin, I want to congratulate Misha, a blogger I've known for ages but had lost track of. She has just graduated with an English literature degree - and not just graduated, but with magna cum laude, which means "with great honours." Very very neat. (Hey, I was finally able to link to something.) Whenever I've read Misha's blog I've wished I could be a student again - and learn, learn, learn. I always did love school. I envy you, Misha.

At Living Room on Friday I'm planning on discussing Matthew 11:28-30, a passage that has in the past had a huge impact on me:

Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

That's such a wonderful thing to read when you're going through tough times, especially when you haven't made God part of your life before! I guess these verses meant most to me when I was just in the process of becoming a Christian. (Yes, getting onboard did not happen to me all in one fell swoop.)

A yoke is a contraption that links two animals like oxen together so they can pull farm equipment. It can also be something a person wears, in Asian countries, for example, with something - like a bucket for example - hanging from each end. It is used to carry burdens.

A yoke suggests something oppressive; it suggests bondage. When we put on Christ's yoke, we are bound to Him. We surrender our own will. His yoke brings our passions and desires for the sinful ways of the world under control. The yoke allows Jesus to guide our thoughts and actions, so we'll follow His ways.

When I decided to come to Jesus and take His yoke upon me some twenty years ago, I welcomed it. I needed guidelines for my life. It meant that I finally had something meaningful to live for. The reason for my life became clearer to me. The yoke was easy and the burden was light. It wasn't oppressive at all. In fact, it was freeing.

In my new book, A Firm Place to Stand, I tell a story about a young boy who did not receive rules from his parents. One day he was finally given some very specific rules. And that made him very very happy. He felt cared for; he felt that his Mom was paying attention to what he did. That's what that yoke is like for me. It's the yoke of a loving Father.

In his sermon today, Pastor Don said something that I wonder about. He said that when we start following Christ things can become harder because we are no longer our own god. Life no longer revolves around us. I don't know if I agree with that. It certainly wasn't true for me.

How about you? What has Christ's yoke meant to you in your life? Was it hard at first? Do you find His burden (joining Him in His work) hard to carry?

Friday, June 06, 2008

An award

Life can get a bit too exciting at times, can't it? I just hope I keep everything together; I hope I stay cool, calm, collected,...and stable.

Yesterday I found out that I had received a Fellowship of Christian Newspaper award, an organization that represents about forty regional Christian newspapers in the US and Canada. I placed second in the First Person Article category for a testimony I had published in BC Christian News last year. Wow! I feel honored.

This article, No Longer Alone, is also online at I'm sorry! I still can't create links. Will have my talented son help me with my computer problems real soon (I hope). Anyway, check that website and do a search for the article and you will find it.

I had a look over my past few posts and was horrified to discover how much I've been repeating myself, especially on my favorite topic, "Love." I'm sorry and I hope I'm not boring you too too much. Does this have something to do with getting older? But I feel so young!!!

I have now finished reading Blue Like Jazz, so won't draw thoughts from that book anymore. I'm now on to my next book by another revolutionary Christian, Brian McLaren. The book is Everything Must Change. Sounds pretty radical, doesn't it? Love it. But it's a difficult book and a lot of it's beyond me. But the things I have understood appeal to me, so I will plow on and gather what I can.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Receiving love

Further gleanings from Don Miller's Blue Like Jazz:

Miller says, "...I have come to understand that strength, inner strength, comes from receiving love as much as it comes from giving it. I think apart from the idea that I am a sinner and God forgives me, this is the greatest lesson I have ever learned. When you get it, it changes you." He says that this is the key to happiness. And, "God's love will never change us if we don't accept it."

This is so true. In my own life I've experienced the kind of happiness truly experiencing God's love - truly owning it - brings.

Trouble is, there are many Christians who have a strong faith, believing in God, believing that God's love is unconditional and immeasurable, yet unable to "feel" that love. This is especially true during times of depression. Being able to receive love is the key to living a fully happy life.

How can we help people fully realize God's great love for them? How can we help people own that for themselves? How can we help people feel God's love?

That's probably my biggest goal at Living Room: to help people learn to experience God's love. Because I know that when they do, they will find healing.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Nonreligious Christianity

At Mark's Living Room last night we were discussing what the word religion actually means. The topic was raised when I started talking about the book I'm reading, Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. I must say I really like exploring revolutionary approaches to Christianity. Christ called us to follow Him; and Christ was himself a revolutionary. He did not believe in staying within the confines of religion as it had been developed by the holy people of His time.

Don Miller writes: "All the wonder of God happens right above our arithmetic and formula. The more I climb outside my pat answers, the more invigorating the view, the more my heart enters into worship....for so long religion was my false gospel. But there was no magic in it, no wonder, no awe, no kingdom life burning in my chest. And when I get tempted by that same stupid Christian religion, I go back to the beginning of the Gospels and am comforted that there is something more than the emptiness of ritual....By reducing Christian spirituality to formula, we deprive our hearts of wonder." He says, "I don't think there is any better worship than wonder."

I believe in the Bible and in following it and in being fed by it. It is God's Word. But it is alive too. It has been called the Living Bible. As such we need to not try to force our worship or understanding into formulas that are too narrowly defined. How we apply God's Word to our lives can be fresh for who we are today and the times we are living in. We need to read the Bible as the Bible speaks to us. Too often we are influenced by fixed views that have been around too long and are not valid for our times.

The important thing is: What did Christ teach us? He said, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:37-40)

The Bible says, "But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code." (Romans 7:6)

Today - as it was in Biblical times - we need to worship and serve in the Spirit and not according to religion.

That's just the way I'm thinking about it today. What do you think?

Letters to God

Susan of (sorry, Susan, my computer is acting up again and I can't create a link) is doing a series on writing for wellness, something I'm very interested in. My emotional health has greatly improved from writing - writing in my journal, in emails to friends, in blogging, and in writing my books. My last book, A Firm Place to Stand, to be released in the next month, has especially strengthened me.

This made me think: If prayer is good for our health, and if writing is good for our health, how very good writing prayers would be for us. My journaling is often in the form of letters to God and I've found those letters very healing. If pouring out our emotions and our needs is a good thing, how much better a thing it would be to pour this out to our heavenly Father who loves us.

These journalled prayers are good to look back on as well. I've often gone back to read them and find out they've been answered. Not only is it therapeutic to write; it's also therapeutic to go back and read what we've written.

Writing for ourselves is one thing, but it's even better when we write for others. Sharing our feelings with others unburdens us, allowing other people - and God - to help us carry the pain.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Computer frustrations

Hi everyone!

I'm getting very frustrated. Most of the time my computer doesn't respond when I try to go to people's blogs, or even when I try to get to my own. Pop-ups keep invading and when I delete them everything shuts down. It's very discouraging. If you wonder why I haven't visited lately, that's the main reason. It's just very hard to get to you. I'm just glad I'm able to write this now and hope nothing happens before I have time to post it.

Will get my talented son to look into this as soon as I can get him to come over.

In the meantime I will try to get to you every once in a while...hoping God will give me some patience.

I know some of you are not doing well and I want you to know I've been thinking of you and praying for you.